With stomach cancer, also referred to as gastric cancer, cancer cells often begin in the stomach’s inner lining. They then grow deeper into the stomach walls as cancer develops. Common symptoms of stomach cancer such as unexplained weight loss and stomach pain often do not appear in the early stages. However, there are treatments available for stomach cancer. Please read this blog to learn more about stomach cancer, its symptoms, causes, the people who are more at risk of stomach cancer, and treatment options.
What is stomach cancer?
With stomach cancer, cancer cells grow out of control in the stomach. Cancer can form anywhere in the stomach. In the USA, most cases of stomach cancer involve abnormal cell growth in the place where the stomach meets the esophagus (i.e., gastroesophageal junction). In other countries, where stomach cancer is more common, cancer usually forms in the central part of the stomach. About 95 percent of the time, stomach cancer starts in the stomach lining and progresses slowly. Untreated, it may form a mass (or tumor) and grow deeper into the stomach walls. The tumor can spread to nearby organs such as the liver and pancreas.
Who does stomach cancer affect?
Anybody can develop stomach cancer. However, specific demographic factors can increase your risk. You are more likely to get stomach cancer if:
- You are 65 or over
- Your ethnic background is East Asian, Central or South American, or Eastern European.
- You were assigned male at birth.
How common is stomach cancer?
Stomach or gastric cancer is one of the most common cancers worldwide. However, it is seen less often in the USA. Only about 1.5 percent of stomach cancers get diagnosed every year in the USA, where stomach cancer cases have declined steadily for the past decade.
What are the symptoms of stomach cancer?
Stomach cancer does not generally cause symptoms during its early stages. Even the most common initial signs of stomach cancer, often stomach pain and unexplained weight loss, do not usually show up until the stomach cancer is more advanced. Common symptoms of stomach cancer include:
- Trouble swallowing
- Loss of appetite
- Fatigue or weakness
- Heartburn and indigestion
- Nausea and vomiting
- Black stool (poop) or vomiting blood
- Unexplained weight loss
- Feel bloated and gassy after eating.
- Feel full even after eating a snack or small meal.
- Stomach pain, usually above your belly button
Several of these symptoms are common in other conditions as well. Consult the doctor to diagnose if your symptoms are that of stomach cancer or another disease.
What causes stomach cancer?
Stomach cancer develops when there is a genetic mutation (or change) in the DNA of the stomach cells. DNA is defined as the code that tells your cells when to grow and die. Because of the mutation, the cells grow quickly and eventually form a tumor instead of dying. The cancer cells overtake healthy cells and can spread to other parts of the body. Researchers do not know what factors cause this mutation.
However, specific factors seem to increase the likelihood of forming stomach cancer. These include:
- Family history of stomach cancer and Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
- Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection and A diet high in salty, fatty, smoked, or pickled foods.
- Obesity or gastritis and History of stomach ulcers or stomach polyps
- Epstein-Barr virus infection and A diet that does not include many vegetables and fruits
- Frequent exposure to substances such as coal, metal, and rubber and Drinking too much alcohol
- Smoking, vaping or chewing tobacco and Autoimmune atrophic gastritis
Stomach cancer is more common in individuals with Type A blood, although researchers are unsure why.
How is stomach cancer diagnosed?
The doctor will review your medical history, enquire about your symptoms and perform a physical exam that can involve feeling for a mass in your stomach. They can order several tests to diagnose and stage stomach cancer. Staging allows the doctor to assess how much the stomach cancer has spread. Staging can range from 0 (zero) to IV (four) with stomach cancer. Stage zero means the stomach cancer has not spread beyond the stomach lining. Stage IV implies that it has spread to other organs. Techniques for diagnosis include:
- Upper endoscopy is usually used to diagnose stomach cancer. During the upper endoscopy procedure, your doctor inserts a thin tube with a tiny camera at its tip (i.e., the endoscope) into your mouth until it reaches the stomach. Small surgical instruments may pass through the endoscope, allowing the doctor to remove a tissue sample (or biopsy). This sample can be tested in a lab for cancer cells.
- Endoscopic ultrasound is a particular type of endoscopy that helps stage stomach cancer. The endoscope used in this procedure has an ultrasound probe attached to its tip. It can take pictures of your stomach. The endoscope can show if the stomach cancer has spread from the stomach lining to the stomach wall.
- Radiologic tests, including a barium swallow, CT scan, and MRI, can help identify tumors and other abnormalities that can be cancer-related. During the barium swallow, you drink a substance that makes the stomach lining more visible on the X-ray.
- Blood tests can offer data about how the organs are functioning. Poor organ function can indicate that stomach cancer has spread to that organ.
- Laparoscopy is a surgery that allows the doctor to assess cancer spread when less invasive methods such as imaging have not provided enough information. During the laparoscopy, the doctor inserts a tiny camera into minor cuts in the abdomen so they can see the organs directly.
How is stomach cancer treated?
Treatment depends upon how far the stomach cancer has spread, your health, and your treatment preferences. Treatment often involves a care team including your primary care provider, a cancer specialist (or oncologist), and a gastrointestinal specialist (or gastroenterologist). They will advise you on various treatment options.
Depending on how much the stomach cancer has spread, the doctor can suggest surgery to remove the precancerous cells, a tumor, or part or all of your stomach.
- Upper endoscopy: In the initial stages, when the stomach cancer is limited to your stomach’s superficial (or uppermost) layers, the stomach cancer can be removed through an upper endoscopy.
- Gastrectomy. Once the tumor spreads beyond the stomach’s superficial layers, you will need surgery to remove part or all of your stomach. Subtotal gastrectomy is a procedure that removes the part of the stomach affected by cancer. Total gastrectomy removes the entire stomach.
Other treatments for stomach cancer
Additional treatments attack the cancer cells directly.
- Chemotherapy uses drugs to shrink the cancer cells, making them easier to remove before the surgery.
- Radiation uses targeted energy beams such as X-rays to destroy cancer cells. Radiation can also help relieve symptoms.
- Targeted drug therapy
- Immunotherapy helps the immune system identify and destroy cancer cells that can be hard to detect. It is most commonly used in recurring or advanced stomach cancer.
Cancer may develop in the stomach. This is known as stomach cancer or sometimes gastric cancer. Stomach cancer might spread to other parts of the body. It can spread to lymph nodes close to the stomach. However, using the treatment techniques discussed in this blog, stomach cancer can be treated depending on its stage and your health.